Visitors warned for ignoring COVID-19 advice

Police, fire, water and charity chiefs are calling on people to stay at home and strictly follow the Government’s latest coronavirus advice after a surge in visitors to a popular Pennines beauty spot.

Unacceptable numbers of people have been witnessed at Dove Stone Reservoir, near Oldham, since the lockdown announced on Monday – despite site accesses being closed by United Utilities.

The moorland site in the Peak District National Park, also an RSPB nature reserve, shut its car parks earlier in the week in line with Government advice.  Signs have also been erected explaining the essential reasons for its closure, which are to prevent people congregating and keep everyone safe from being exposed to or unwittingly spreading the potentially lethal coronavirus.

But despite the warnings security guards are having to turn away large numbers of cars attempting to park on the main access road. People are then parking on the public highway outside the site. Through doing so, visitors are putting staff, contractors and other members of the public at risk with an increased likelihood of traffic accidents on the main road, whilst also needlessly increasing the chances of staff and contractors coming into contact with people, increasing their risk to the virus. 

Concerned local residents have reported seeing numerous families and groups of individuals, some carrying portable barbecues.  Barbecues are always explicitly banned because of the risk of devastating fire.

Police Sergeant Paul Heap, of GMP’s Oldham division, said: “This is a particularly challenging time and we want to do all that we can to make sure those most at risk within our communities are protected.

“This means policing with the fundamental principle of consent and to police with the support of the public. We are encouraging people to follow the Government’s advice to stay at home and to save the lives of our loved ones. This means only leaving the house for a limited number of reasons and for essential journey’s. 

“We understand that people want to get out and exercise once a day, and we would encourage people to exercise locally to them and practice social distancing responsibly. What we do not wish to see, is people wilfully flouting the Government advice and congregating in large numbers at beauty spots such as Dove Stone. By doing so, you are at risk of spreading the virus and are putting people’s lives at risk.

“Where necessary and where proportionate, we will use emergency powers to enforce new legislation. However, this isn’t something we want to do. We want to work with communities and hope they understand that social gatherings of this kind put extra pressure on already stretched emergency services. Please act responsibly and help us, to help you.” 

Paula Steer from landowner United Utilities said all the gated entrances and car parks had been shut but the main access road onto the site must remain open for the residents who live there: “It’s clearly signed as being closed but visitors are ignoring it and using it anyway. We need people to take their responsibilities to the whole community seriously.”

Kate Hanley, RSPB Site Manager also highlighted the charities concerns, “The RSPB has closed all of its reserves in line with Government advice. Dove Stone is no exception. Whilst it may be appropriate for very local residents within walking distance to take their allotted slot of daily exercise on the site following social distancing rules, we do not want to see anyone other than residents and essential staff driving to Dove Stone, whether that be for walks or barbecues. We want all our visitors, supporters and members to stay at home and keep safe, and in doing so, keep our staff, contractors and partners safe. Please act responsibly and remember that Dove Stone will still be here for you to enjoy when the restrictions are lifted.”

Station Manager Dave Swallow from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service added: “It is really concerning that large numbers of people are visiting the area. Barbecuing in areas like Dove Stone is increasing the risk of igniting a wild fire and we don’t want to tie up large amounts of our resources for incidents that could easily be avoided, especially in these unprecedented times. People need to think long and hard about what they are doing and the potential consequences of their actions.

“We want to remind people that barbecues in beauty spots, such as Dove Stone, are not considered an essential activity under the Government guidance and restrictions in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.  Also, around the Tameside and Oldham areas there are Public Space Protections Orders (PSPOs) in place which restrict the use of barbecues, camp fires and other naked flames - so having barbecues is actually illegal and people could find themselves landed with a fine.”

The Peak District National Park Authority is urging people not to travel to the Peak District at all during Government measures on coronavirus.

A spokesman said: “All our visitor facilities are closed. Protect our emergency services and save lives. Please, stay at home.” /Ends


Notes to editors:

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